Benjamin L. Crump’s Crusade Against Goliath
Daring to CareBenjamin L. Crump’s Crusade Against GoliathBy Caroline Brewster
Benjamin L. Crump is no stranger to adversity. Raised by his mother and grandmother, the self-proclaimed “little black boy from the projects of North Carolina” has grown from his humble beginnings in Lumberton, N.C., to become one of the most noted and influential young lawyers in Florida.
A 1995 graduate of Florida State University’s College of Law, the 39-year-old Crump is a founding partner of Parks & Crump in Tallahassee, and earlier this year was recognized by Florida Trend magazine as one of “Florida’s Legal Elite.” Outside of work, he serves the community as board chairman of the Tallahassee Boys Choir and general counsel of the Tallahassee Chapter of the NAACP. He also has donated $1 million to Legal Services of North Florida to ensure that poor people have quality legal representation.
Crump strives to give voice to those in the community who may not otherwise be heard. As an advocate for the underdog, he spends long hours mired in the sobering details of the law and crime. Each day he wades through reports of police brutality, retirement-robbing land scams, sexual abuse and negligent child care services – a task that would leave many people overwhelmed and ready to give up.
Past cases mired in tragedy involved Zaniyah Hinson, a 2-year-old Daytona Beach girl, who died of hyperthermia after being left in a day-care center van for four hours following a field trip; Amanda Lewis, whose boyfriend and 8-month-old daughter died in a natural gas explosion at her Melbourne apartment after complaints of a natural gas leak in the complex were ignored; and Leeronnie Ogletree, a ballboy for the Boston Red Sox, who was sexually molested over a nine-year period by a team manager.
Yet Crump remains surprisingly upbeat in the face of so much sorrow.
“It can be hard, but there is glory in helping David beat Goliath,” he says. “I have a choice every day in this line of work: I can accept everything as it is and quit so I don’t have to face it, or I can fight and stay determined that, even if I’m going to fall, I will fall fighting. I have to dare to care, no matter what the results. ”
Crump gained national attention for his 2007 representation of the family of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old who died in January 2006 after a violent encounter with guards at the Bay County juvenile boot camp. The high-profile case made national headlines and resulted in drastic changes to the state’s juvenile justice system. A $7.4 million payout was made to Anderson’s family, and boot camps statewide were replaced with juvenile facilities that focus more on education.
Crump, however does not look at the case as a complete success. Although the family was compensated financially, all eight boot camp workers charged in the attack were acquitted, leaving the family feeling disenfranchised while affirming Crump’s belief that racial bigotry and inconsistencies within the criminal justice system remain very much alive.
“Take into consideration something like the Rachel Lee Hoffman case,” Crump says. “Look at the community outrage, and justly so, that the case has received. I can’t help but wonder . . . what if that was someone of a different race? The reaction would probably not be the same.
“For every Martin Lee Anderson, there are 50 other cases like that that no one has heard of. It sends the message that if you harm young black men, nothing happens to you. They aren’t of value. What message does that send to the community of young black people?”
Crump’s mission as advocate for the young black community starts at home.
“I look at my nieces and nephews, and I know that my efforts in all this are about them,” he says. “If the community sees them as disposable then I’ve got to do something to prove that they matter.”